The hardest part of the CIO job is keeping up with the never-ending avalanche of technology developments - that's what our readers tell us anyway. So we asked Ken Smith, CIO of Ohio-based PolyOne, for some practical advice on handling the chore.
1. PRIORITISE RUTHLESSLY
PolyOne is a $US3 billion maker of elastomers, colorants, plastic compounds and vinyl resins. The company was formed by a merger of Geon and MA Hanna in September 2000. It's global, has numerous product lines and manufacturing sites, is doing lots of e-commerce stuff, and is in the midst of migrating the two original companies' systems onto SAP R/3 as a common platform. Smith is busy. So he is very selective about which technologies he tries to track. "You can easily become overwhelmed by all the technologies out there, so the key is to remember that no one person can do it all. You have to ruthlessly prioritise," he says. For Smith, CRM is number one right now: "We think it has real potential as a competitive advantage." XML and wireless are next on the list.
Smith relies on his technical staff to go out, research their areas of expertise, sort through the vapour and report back any developments that could affect PolyOne's IT setup, whether through new functionality or better cost efficiency. He says the company's experts do a great job staying abreast of their technology areas - desktops, midranges, networks and the like - but that PolyOne needs a better-defined process for capturing their feedback. Whether that's through casual lunches, formal committees or some other system, choosing a consistent method that works for PolyOne is on Smith's priority list for 2002.
Some of Smith's staffers sit on standards committees for emerging technologies such as CXML, a chemicals-industry variation of XML. That participation gives PolyOne the chance to help steer their development. While Smith also notes that standards-setting is a slow process - his company can't afford to be paralysed waiting for standards to coalesce - it's valuable to get involved early.
But what to read? This leads to the next tip.
4. USE YOUR CONSULTANTS AND VENDORS
PolyOne uses services from Accenture for projects such as the current SAP rollout. Smith milks that relationship not only to query the consultants about their firsthand technology expertise but also to find out where to go for more. In the case of CRM, Smith says most of the reading he found on his own was "academic, not real-world". Accenture consultants pointed Smith to relevant research from other analyst companies. Staying abreast of technologies, after all, is part of the consultants' job too. Using their input is "a way of picking and choosing [the best content from analyst services] instead of joining all of them", says Smith. And consultancies such as Accenture typically have case studies detailing their own clients' technology implementations. Similarly, Smith also queries PolyOne's software and hardware vendors about their upcoming plans and the technologies likely to have an effect in their particular areas.
5. FORGET TRADE SHOWS
Smith, for one, chooses not to burn his limited time on expo floors. He says he just doesn't find them very useful, "other than for the T-shirts, maybe".
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